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Introduction to Archival Research

Get started understanding how to find and use archival collections in your school work, professional research, or family research.

Front Matter

The Front Matter of each collection will contain some or all of the following fields of information to describe the content and the context of the whole collection.

Title Usually the title of the collection refers to the person or organization from which the collection originated - like the National Farmers Union records or the Patricia Schroeder papers. 
Abstract The abstract offers the briefest explanation of the collection, including the origin of the collection, the formats of material included in the collection, and the subjects represented in the collection content.
Inclusive Dates Inclusive dates will tell you the time period from which this collection originated. 
Creator If the title of the collection does refer to the creator of the material, there may be a field that identifies the creator. For example, the Latinos of Colorado Oral History collection at CU Boulder Libraries was created by Professor Maria E. Montoya, who created the collected as a course assignment in 1993.
Quantity/Extent

The quantity/extent will tell you the size or volume of the collection. It may be listed according to number of boxes or containers, but it is usually listed according to linear feet. See "Understanding linear feet" tab above for more.

Understanding the extent of the collection can help you anticipate how much material to request or how much time you will need for research.

The quantity/extent may also include a physical description that identifies the number or type of containers in the collection - like oversize material or media items. Keep in mind that this description often describes the containers of the collection, not the material held within those containers.

Biographical/Historical Note The biography or history note will provide some information about the person or organization who created this collection. This is particularly helpful when the person or organization is unfamiliar and is not otherwise identified in biographies or other reference sources.
Scope/Content Note The scope/content note is a longer description of what is included or represented in the collection. This may include a more detailed outline of the sections of the collection, an explanation of the physical formats or media contained in the collection, or a description of the subjects, people, places, or organizations represented in the content of the collection material.
Arrangement Note An arrangement note will give you a brief outline the material in the collection and how it is organized.
Processing Note The processing note gives an explanation of the archival processing work done on this collection by the archivist. Remember that the act of arranging and describing a collection is an intervention by the archivist, which may change the context of the material from its original order. Archivists try to be transparent about what work we’ve done, like explaining where and why something was removed or retitled by the archivist. 
Related Material A note on related material may offer suggestions of other collections or resources related to the topic of this collection. There could also be notes on the "Existence and Location of Originals," if this collection contains copies of material that is held elsewhere, or "Existence and Location of Copies," in the opposite case.
Administrative Information An administrative note can offer important information about access and use of the collection. This could an include restrictions on sensitive or private material, details of the collection's copyright status, or instructions on how to make or request copies of material.
Custodial History A note on custodial history or source of acquisition may offer more information about the origin and history of this collection, especially for archival collections that have passed from one archive to another at some time.
Accruals A note on accruals may indicate when different parts of the collection where received by the archive in separate donations over time.


 

 

 

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